The Book of Psalms

Tuesday: Struck Down, but Not Destroyed


Theme: Oppression from Israel’s Youth
In this week’s lessons, we learn about God’s triumph for his people over persecutions.
Scripture: Psalm 129:1-8
Israel’s “youth” was the time when the nation was first coming into existence in Egypt. Hosea quotes God as referring to the Egyptian years this way, saying, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11:1). These were years of persecution and oppression, as the Pharaoh first extracted hard slave labor from the people and then, when he perceived that they were growing in numbers anyway, began to kill the newly born male children. Moses, the emancipator, was born and survived in these latter days of this excessively cruel oppression. 
But it was not only in her youth that Israel was oppressed and suffered. It was “from” her youth, as the psalmist writes. That is, it was from the earliest days of Israel’s existence until the time the psalm was written, and beyond. In the days of the judges, Israel was oppressed by the many hostile nations that surrounded the small but thriving state: the Philistines, Syrians, Moabites, Ammonites. Edomites and others. We capture a sense of the scope and intensity of this oppression from the early chapters of Amos, which mention in succession the surrounding peoples of Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon and Moab, and list the offenses for which they were judged, namely, cruelty, treachery and wanton destruction. 
What about the period of the monarchy, especially that of the later kings? Josiah was killed by an Egyptian invasion led by Pharaoh Necco (2 Kings 23:29, 30). The northern kingdom of Israel was invaded and harassed by Syrian forces and later destroyed by Assyria’s armies under Shalmaneser III (858-824 B.C.), Tiglath-pileser III (745-727 B.C.), Shalmaneser V (727-721 B.C.) and Sargon II (721-705 B.C.). When Samaria fell to Sargon, as it did in 721 B.C., the first year of his reign, the people were deported and the history of the northern kingdom ended. 
In 701 B.C., Sennacherib (705-681 B.C.), Sargon’s son, invaded Judah (2 Kings 18, 19; Isa. 36, 37). He was turned back by God’s angel, who killed 185,000 Syrian soldiers in one night. But it was not long after this, after Assyria was replaced by Babylon as the dominant power in the near east, that the armies of Babylon attacked and eventually destroyed Jerusalem and the southern Jewish kingdom. Jerusalem fell in 586 B.C., and the people were carried to Babylon to begin the seventy-year-long exile from which they had presumably only recently returned when the psalm was written.
And that is only the history of the Jews up to the time this psalm was written! They have suffered since at the hands of the Greeks and Romans; in the Middle Ages by virtually all the European powers, which expelled them from their territories repeatedly or else confined them to Jewish ghettos; and most recently—this is still fresh in many of our memories—by the Nazi regime with its dreadful extermination policy. 
Well may Israel say, “They have greatly oppressed me from my youth, but they have not gained the victory over me.” Why have they not gained the victory? Why has Israel survived? The psalmist seems to hold the answer in poetical suspense until the end of the first stanza, though it has been understood all along. It is not because Israel herself is so strong. It is because of God, who is “righteous” and “has cut me free from the cords of the wicked.” (v. 4). “Righteous” means that God is faithful to his covenant with Israel. Cutting me “free from the cords” means deliverance from slavery and is a parallel statement to “we have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare” in Psalm 124:7.
The second stanza of this psalm is imprecatory. That is, it asks for the judgment of God on those who “hate Zion” and oppress her people. It always amuses me how some commentators on these passages wriggle and squirm to try to get out from under appeals for judgment that they think are unworthy of a biblical writer. They consider them vindictive and contrary to the spirit of Jesus who told us to pray for our enemies and those who use us badly (Matt. 5:44, 45). It is true that we are to pray for our enemies, of course. Jesus justifies these prayers on the grounds that “God causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (v. 45), meaning that we are to pray for enemies on the grounds of common grace. But that does not mean that God is not going to judge the wicked in time or that we should not wish that justice might be meted out eventually, especially when those we are praying against are seen to be God’s enemies—here, “all who hate Zion”—and not merely our own. 
Study Questions: 

What was Israel’s youth? How did the nation suffer then? 
Why have Israel’s enemies not triumphed? 
For what reason does the psalmist call the Lord “righteous”? 
How does the second stanza differ from the first? 

Application: Are you dealing with a difficult situation now and are in need of God’s help and deliverance? Reflect on those times when God has delivered you before, and ask for persevering hope. 
Prayer: Thank the Lord that he has sustained you not only in difficult situations but also in everyday life.

Study Questions
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